Notes on Losing a Job and Being Scared Shitless
What made me decide during my teen years that I was going to devote my life to creating "art"? Music, poetry, prose, photography, if it was "art" I was going to do it and no one could stop me. My parents thought I was crazy and put me in a psychiatric ward for eight weeks. I emerged no less an artist. The medications I should have been taking had been hidden in my lower lip and spit out the window, drifting down five stories to land in a sodden mess of other spat-out medications at the back entrance to the hospital.
It was just what I had to do. I didn't see any choice in the matter. I was driven. I wouldn't listen to my father's imprecations to "find yourself a profession and do 'art' on the side".
What? Do "art" on the side? Jeez, what did he think I was? Some kind of dilettante? I was going to be immersed in music, writing, etc for my life, every day of my life, 24/7/365/80something.
That's what I've done. I've arranged everything in my life to be an "artist".
I use these quotation marks because at this stage of my life the words Art, Artist, Creative, Genius, etc have been so devalued that I feel like a complete fool. I can't explain what I really am. I'm in late middle age and I'm still doing it. I fit the classic model of the "starving artist", the impractical beatnik hipster free spirit who lives outside the mainstream and survives as a free lance everything.
I've had the perfect job for twenty six years. It's a part time janitorial contract, It's about fifteen hours of work each week. When I combine that income with a couple other cleaning jobs, I'm an independent man with a subsistence income. That frees me to be the artist and writer that I am. I don't know how to do anything else.
I create. I do the cleaning job on my own time, no one pressures me, it's physical work and my mind can wander through my artistic universe while I sweep and scrub.
Then the property owner died and this perfect job died with him. I got thirty days notice. The letter arrived yesterday. The dead man's heirs are hiring a slick professional firm of janitorial shysters who pick up Latino workers, put them in blue uniforms, pay them minimum wage and pocket the rest.
You know the kind of sickening gut-storm that happens when you find out your lover's been cheating? You know that feeling?
I feel like that. A nice chunk of income worth $1100 a month has suddenly vanished. It was my largest contract. I don't know how I'll pay my rent, care for my wife, keep the internet broadband connected. I still have some work. Just a bit. I'm 64 years old. My feet are in chronic pain. I've never worked for anyone else.
I've had enough experiences in my life to understand that one of the most basic structures of existence is this: death and resurrection. Getting fired is a death. I await the new blossoming.
I've been going through years of heartbreak. I'll be honest. No one wants to read about my pain; there's enough pain. Who needs some obscure writer to dump more pain?
I think I'm a special writer but show me a writer who doesn't think he or she is special. Writing is a landscape of self delusion, fantasy, hope burning, guttering, rejection gathering, courage failing. This is a tough time for writers. There's a zillion grandiose twenty five year old English Lit and MFA graduates who want to hit the Great Harry Potter Roulette Wheel.
I'm scared shitless. I'm old, I have a lot of unmarketable skills, my wife is
disabled and my dogs are neurotic as Alaskan Armadillos. What am I going to do?
Here's where the leap of faith enters the picture: It Will Come. I've been stuck in the most colossal rut for seven or eight years. I've been comfortable.
Comfort can be deadly to an artist. I'm going to have to ride it out. Already, I've applied for two writing jobs. Wouldn't that be cool, actually being employed writing?
I can do other people's work. I can do it well. I've done it before. I was a ghost writer for six years for a celebrity photographer. My ghost written articles appeared in People Magazine, Teen Beat, National Enquirer, a host of tatty rags. I got paid by the hour. My boss was seventy five years old, and he was a tightwad! That fucker paid me minimum wage and threw in a pallet upon which I could sleep in his equipment warehouse. The hitch was that he charged me a hundred bucks a month rent!
I'm going to get less scared as the days pass. I know this has happened and that it will turn out okay. If it doesn't turn out okay, that's going to be a drag.
What's the worst that can happen? I always ask this question when things are rough. The answer: the worst that can happen is that I can suffer horribly for a long time, intimately observe my mind and body disintegrating, and then die alone in a ditch.
So, if that's the worst that can happen, what am I worried about?